Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Harper expected for Jets opener

Leading right-winger a 'huge hockey fan'

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Expect the country's top right-winger to be in the building -- but not in the lineup -- for the Winnipeg Jets home opener Oct. 9.

Multiple sources have told the Free Press Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopes to be at the MTS Centre on Oct. 9 when the Jets play the Montreal Canadiens, the first regular-season NHL game in town in more than 15 years.

While it's entirely possible he could be called away on prime-ministerial business at the last minute, Harper -- arguably the country's highest-profile hockey fan -- reportedly has every intention of being here.

That Harper would take in such a historic game wouldn't be a total surprise, given that he was in attendance at the gold-medal game of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver where Canada's men's team defeated the U.S. in overtime, game 4 of last season's Stanley Cup final in Boston between the Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks and game 6 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final between the Edmonton Oilers and the Caroline Hurricanes. He's also a semi-regular at Ottawa Senators games.

Winnipeg Jets spokesman Scott Brown couldn't confirm the prime minister's attendance, but said "it's a good possibility."

"He's a huge hockey fan, that's well known. I would imagine if his schedule allows, and that's a significant issue unto itself, that he'll come. We would love to welcome the prime minister here. We'd be honoured if he would come and be in the building for our first game," said Brown.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's Office could not be reached for comment.

Another political hockey fan, Winnipeg South MP Rod Bruinooge, said Harper's challenge is committing to events in a tumultuous world climate.

"He could be called to be on the road to attend (high-level meetings) on a moment's notice," said Bruinooge.

He has made a point of keeping the prime minister updated on all things puck in Winnipeg. When True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman announced the team would adopt the Jets moniker at the NHL draft in St. Paul last month, Bruinooge briefed Harper on the team's first draft pick, forward Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts.

"He was really excited about it and he has wished Winnipeg well on this new venture. His message was (the return of the NHL to Winnipeg) was a testament to Canada," he said.

Bruinooge also received considerable attention that day when he interrupted a filibuster in the House of Commons, while wearing a Jets jersey, to announce the Jets name was back.

"That drew applause from all sides of the house in the middle of a rancorous debate," he said.

Bruinooge said it's possible Harper just might be Canada's biggest hockey fan.

"He always buys his own tickets. That's a practice that's new to the office of the prime minister," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 19, 2011 A5

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